ASAA must monitor effects of its decisions

A fan's notes

Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2005

From the wrist on a jump shot to the stick blade on a slap shot, follow-through is vital in sports.

The Alaska School Activities Association board of directors needs to work on its follow-through.

In late February, the board voted to overhaul athletic eligibility and academic rules. Gary Matthews, the executive director of ASAA, said the move by the board was the most significant since 1996, when the board voted unanimously to change the face of Alaska's traditional four-season athletic calendar.

The board needs to be more diligent tackling potential problems created by its overhaul of eligibility and academic rules than it has been in dealing with problems created by changing the athletic calendar.

When the calendar was changed in 1996, it brought the basketball and volleyball seasons more in line with the Lower 48, allowing basketball and volleyball teams to face more Outside competition.

The new calendar also made the wrestling season utterly dysfunctional, splitting up the large- and small-schools seasons. The small-schools wrestlers were parked in the fall because wrestling could not compete with basketball in the Bush and because of travel savings Bush schools achieve by flying wrestlers to a Bush town, then having that same plane return with a volleyball team.

Large-schools wrestlers, meanwhile, have endured a bitter struggle to find a time for their season. The season has changed four times since the 1996-97 school year. In late February, a proposal to again move the season narrowly failed.

Smaller and more remote large schools, like those on the Kenai Peninsula and especially those in Southeast, want to compete as much as possible in the fall in order to take advantage of all the small-schools competition close by.

Larger schools, like those in Anchorage and Fairbanks, don't gain as much by being able to compete with small schools. Plus, they have more sports in the fall, like gymnastics, than small schools do. This makes them want to compete in winter.

The latest proposal was to align the large-schools season with the small-schools season, but Anchorage and Fairbanks schools couldn't stomach that move to fall and the proposal failed.

"We're back to square one," West Valley wrestling coach Dan Carstens said after wrestlers were left with just three weeks for the small- and large-schools to compete together.

The new four-sport calendar created by ASAA in 1996 is not working. In 2000, Matthews pointed to a study the previous spring that showed 85 percent were happy with the new calendar.

The majority rules in America, but there's also something called minority rights. Alaska is the only state to hold a split wrestling season, a problem made worse by the small population in this state that already limits competition.

It's time for each and every coach in other sports to put themselves in the shoes of a wrestling coach and ask if they'd want to deal with the problems dealt wrestling by the 1996 calendar change. Then it's time for ASAA to come up with a calendar that works for all the sports.

The same issue of follow-through will be crucial with the overhaul of athletic and eligibility rules. The overhaul increased academic requirements for participating in activities, did away with eligibility for fifth-year seniors and eliminated a rule that let athletes transfer in the summer once without a parental move.

The changes are all steps in the right direction. However, ASAA will have to monitor the effects of these changes and quickly address problems the changes have created.

Take the elimination of the summer transfer rule. The rule has been used to alter the competitive balance on the Kenai Peninsula in some sports, particularly hockey.

This past season, the Skyview varsity hockey team had a tough year, even losing to the Kenai Central junior varsity team. Skyview had lost four key players to summer transfer heading into the 2004-05 season, and another two key players before the 2003-04 season. Five of those six players transferred to Kenai Central.

ASAA's attempt to stop transfers made due to sports is commendable. In a perfect world, students would transfer only for academic reasons. The reality is our sports-crazed society is increasingly creating students and parents that treat high school sports like competitive club sports, rather than the cocurricular activities they are supposed to be.

The elimination of the summer transfer rule is a step in the right direction, but there are still methods students can use to transfer for sports-related reasons. These methods are all more destructive to the educational process than a summer transfer, so unless ASAA addresses these loopholes, it has made the problem worse.

ASAA still hasn't fixed the dismal mess it created with the wrestling season. When students start using different means of transferring for sports-related purposes, ASAA must be quicker to act this time.

This column is the opinion of Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak. Comments and criticisms can be sent to jeff.helminiak@peninsulaclarion .com.

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